First off, the Warriors are a much different team without Steph Curry. It was a heartbreaking loss, but injuries are terrible and seem to keep ruining things between these teams. Here’s to hoping that the next time they see each other, nobody is sitting out.
Ok, so aside from the heartbreak, but there are plenty of good things to talk about without worrying about the final score too much.
In the first half, the Warriors started slow, came roaring back, and then uncharacteristically let the Spurs back into the game. There were a dozen reasons why the Spurs managed to score the ball against the Warriors for the first time in what feels like years, but there were two key reasons: the Spurs’ pace and the Warriors’ shot selection.
With Davis Bertans replacing Pau Gasol [shoulder injury] in the starting lineup, the Spurs were able to get easy transition buckets and a bit more space in the half court. As he has proven all season long, Davis is a major threat from well behind the 3-point line, and his spacing and ability to make a play off the bounce juices the Spurs’ offense quite a bit.
On defense, without Curry, the Spurs no longer had to account for the greatest shooter ever, and had a decent amount of success letting Kevin Durant try to score in isolation throughout the game. He took over in the fourth quarter, but an isolation-heavy Warriors team is considerably less effective than the whirring, free-flowing offense that buries teams. It also helps a defense to be able to set up after a bucket, rather than sprint to avoid a Warriors fast break.
When Durant did isolate, Spurs help defenders did a great job of staying home on shooters before proceeding to clean the glass. It probably gave the Spurs some things to think about should they meet the Warriors in the playoffs with a full roster.
Along with Bertans providing a much-needed dose of athleticism, speed and shooting, the Spurs also got great games from Kyle Anderson, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Dejounte Murray. Anderson remains a confounding opponent for Durant, picking his pocket on multiple occasions and using a series of slow jukes, pump-fakes, and long strides to create offense out of nothing.
Something worth monitoring moving forward: Aldridge’s comfort level against the Warriors defense. Remember how terrible he looked in the playoffs against Golden State, or even in his first season as a Spur? Slowly, he has gained confidence against the swarming, long-armed defense, even against the immovable object that is Draymond Green. All night long, Aldridge attacked his defender with purpose and remained prepared for a possible double-team. Even after Javale McGee threw his shot into the stands, Aldridge remained aggressive.
Dejounte Murray also played a great game, even after a suspect start. His athleticism and rebounding still remain incredibly effective despite lacking a jump shot, and his ability to careen down the court in transition is something the Spurs have just not had the previous couple seasons. He even forced Green to intentionally foul him in the fourth quarter to prevent a fast break.
Murray also made great use of sneaking around the baseline while his defender paid him no attention, particularly when Aldridge posted up. Though a jumper is vital, Murray’s rebounding remains one of his biggest strengths, and if a defender does not guard him, the defender does not box him out.
Tony Parker, Bryn Forbes, and Rudy Gay also all providing a needed scoring boost off the bench, including a big run late in the third quarter that pushed the lead up to nine heading into the fourth. Parker can carry an offense for brief stretches, as can Gay, and even in limited minutes at this point in the season, Forbes is a trustworthy two-way player that has been a key player in big moments throughout the season. Not many teams can boast that sort of depth.
All of these things are important, but perhaps more than anything else, the Spurs no longer looked afraid of Golden State. For the first time since perhaps eliminating them in the playoffs back in 2013, the Spurs fell behind against the Warriors and still fought back. A loss is a loss at this point in the season, but this one could mean a little more come playoffs.
-Patty Mills and Danny green also played very solid games and they get more than their share of blame when things go wrong. Both are effective but limited role players being thrust into larger roles, but they looked comfortable and sharp against Golden State.
-In limited minutes, Joffrey Lauvergne can make some really nice plays. Everyone basically played well in this game.
-Dejounte had a contested jumper and fastbreak dunk within the last 6:30 of the game that sure were nice.
-McGee dunked on Bertans and it was bad, but that guy will never stop jumping. It is difficult to not admire how he contests every dunk.
-Interesting that Bertans wasn’t in the final play of the game.